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Swine Fever Could Devastate Aussie Pig Population

22 June 2009, at 5:51am

AUSTRALIA - Australian experts are warning that an outbreak of the pig disease 'swine fever' could easily and rapidly spread across Australia.

According to The Medical News, the researchers at the University of Western Australia Institute of Agriculture (UWA) say swine fever, which is unrelated to swine flu, could easily spread to Australia's domesticated pigs by way of the feral pig population.

Australia’s has as many as 20 million feral pigs and a classical swine fever outbreak, starting in north Queensland, could spread widely across Australia, potentially posing a risk to Australia’s domestic pig population.

The team at UWA, led by Professor George Milne of the School of Computer Science and Software Engineering, developed a computer model which simulated the effect of wild pigs moving across the landscape and according to the model, given the right seasonal conditions, swine fever could spread among feral pigs and become endemic and virtually impossible to eradicate in Australia.

Professor Milne says the time of the outbreak and seasonal factors are absolutely critical to how quickly the disease could spread and the greatest danger of a rapidly spreading epidemic is at the start of the dry season, when feral pigs gather around water sources.

Professor Milne says it is known that male pigs travel great distances and can therefore spread the disease far and wide, and any effective strategy to combat an outbreak during the dry season would have to involve targeting adult male herds.

Dr. Darryl D’Souza, General Manager, Research and Innovation at Australian Pork Limited, believes that swine fever could have a devastating impact on the pig industry through increasing mortality and morbidity and reducing reproductive performance.

Dr. D’Souza says swine fever was last reported in Australia in 1961 and it is vital that any outbreak in feral pigs is controlled quickly, as it poses a serious threat to Australia’s two-and-a-half million domestic pigs and an industry annually contributing almost $1 billion to the Australian economy.

Dr. D’Souza says prediction models are excellent tools and will certainly assist the industry to predict swine fever outbreaks and effective management strategies.

Dr. D’Souza says classical swine fever was not related to the H1N1 (swine flu) virus, which is not present in Australian pigs and which the World Health Organisation assures cannot be spread by eating properly handled and prepared pork.